Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher freshman Bradley Curtis hits a shot to put the Eagles up by five points late in the second overtime. Thatcher held on to win 61-59 and advance to the first round of the 2A State Tournament.
Thatcher will face Scottsdale Christian in the battle of Eagles in the first round in Prescott Valley
By Jon Johnson
THATCHER – The No. 17 Tonopah Valley Phoenix gave the No. 16 Thatcher Eagles all they had and then some in the 2A State Tournament Play-In game Wednesday night, but the Eagles held on to prevail in double overtime 61-59.
“We weren’t sure what to expect,” said Thatcher head coach Robby Martindell. “We came out playing well, but those guys hit. Our game plan was to make them shoot, and it worked for the most part. But those guys made their shots.”
Thatcher senior guard Michael Greer said the Eagles’ previous tough games helped them pull through this one.
“We already had a triple-overtime game this season against Blue Ridge, so that was good preparation for this,” he said. “We just kept focusing on our game plan and trying to score.”
With the win, Thatcher was re-ranked No. 15 for the state tournament and will face the No. 2 Scottsdale Christian Eagles on Friday in the first round of the 2A State Tournament at the Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, starting at 12:30 p.m.
“Because we have such a young team, them getting this experience – you can’t replicate it anywhere else,” Martindell said. “Even if we lose the first game, it’s just these guys getting that opportunity. And because we are so young, it’s just a great, great opportunity for us.”
Scottsdale Christian is the 2A Metro Region regular-season champions and went unbeaten in the region. Its only loss in regular-season conference play this year was to Trivium Prep, 57-62, on Jan. 20. Scottsdale Christian also pummeled No. 6 Pima earlier this year, 69-36, on Jan. 11.
Pima will play No. 11 St. Johns on Friday at Bradshaw Mountain High School in Prescott, starting at 4:30 p.m. The Alchesay Falcons are the No. 1 seed in the tournament and sport an unblemished 18-0 regular-season record. However, the Falcons did fall to both Show Low and Camp Verde in the Round Valley Roundball Shootout tournament in December 2019. The Falcons will face No. 16 Cicero Prep on Friday in the Findlay Toyota Center, starting at 5 p.m.
Thatcher 61, Tonopah Valley 59 – double overtime
The teams enjoyed playing each other so much they decided to go through two overtime periods before a winner could be decided.
Scoring was scarce in the first period as the teams began feeling each other out. Spencer Stevens led the way in the first period with 4 points, however, it would be his only points of the night and the big man would foul out with 4:21 left in the fourth period.
Trent Larson (10 points) and Cameron Gates (18 points) kept it close early on for Tonopah with a 3-pointer and bucket to tie the game at 6-6, respectively. But Collin Thompson broke the stalemate with a bucket late to give Thatcher the edge, 8-6 at the end of the first period of play. Thompson would end up tying Tonopah’s Tayton Davenport with a game-high 19 points on the night.
The pair went at each other all night, with Davenport going off for 8 points in the second period, as Thompson matched him bucket-for-bucket in the period and added a free throw in for good measure.
By the time the dust settled at halftime, the Eagles found themselves in the driver’s seat with a 27-18 halftime lead. The scoreboard initially read 27-19 at halftime, but that was due to a scoring error when Tonopah was given three points on a Davenport score when it was only a regular, two-point field goal. The score was corrected early on in the third period.
After the break, Michael Greer (15 points) caught fire beyond the arc and zipped in back-to-back 3-pointers to give Thatcher a nine-point lead, 33-24.
“The third quarter opened up a little bit and the whole team moved the ball well and we got open shots and they ended up falling,” Greer said.
The Phoenix came back, however, as Larson scored an and-one play and Cameron Gates answered with two 3-pointers of his own. By the time Anakin Melton (9 points) hit his bucket with just 1:20 left in the third, the game was tied, 34-34, and Tonopah took its first lead of the night shortly thereafter, 36-34, with under a minute left in the period.
After a timeout by Thatcher, the Eagles ran a play and Greer popped open for the shot. The senior swished in the 3-point try and Thatcher retook the lead 37-36 at the end of three periods of play.
However, Davenport stepped outside and nailed two 3-pointers in the fourth to bring the Phoenix within one point, 45-44, late in the period.
Thompson then beat Melton off the dribble and scored a tough layup to put the Eagles up 47-44 with 40 seconds left to play, but Domenic Versluis gathered a pass and nailed a 3-pointer with ice in his veins to tie the game at 47-47 with just 28 seconds to play.
After a Thatcher turnover, the Phoenix had two shots in the paint to take the upset victory but both shots missed and the teams headed to overtime.
With 27 seconds left in overtime, freshman Bradley Curtis cooly hit two free throws to give Thatcher a 52-51 lead. With 11 seconds to go, Tanner Plamer was called for a blocking foul (which could have easily been called an offensive charge as well) and Larson hit his second free-throw attempt to tie the game at 52-52.
After a Thatcher timeout, the Eagles got the ball to Thompson, who drove to the bucket but couldn’t connect on his layup attempt and the teams headed into a second overtime.
In double overtime, the Eagles’ fabulous freshman showed their poise. First, Curtis (9 points) hit on a drive down low to put Thatcher up, 54-53, and then Brandon Napier (11 points) hit the biggest shot of his season and nailed a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 57-53.
The Phoenix didn’t give up, however, and Gates stole the ball and scored on a fast-break layup. After Thompson hit one out of two from the charity stripe, Curtis again scored down low to put Thatcher up 60-55 late in the period. However, Gates answered with a 3-pointer to bring the Phoenix within a bucket. Greer then hit one out of two free throws to extend the lead to 61-58 with just 17 seconds to play.
The Phoenix wasn’t able to get a good look beyond the arc, however, and Larson was fouled on his drive with just 2.6 seconds left to play. Larson made the first free throw and missed the second on purpose, however, a lane violation was called and the Eagles were given the ball on the turnover.
After initially not finding anyone open, Thompson inbounded the ball to Greer at halfcourt, and the senior fell on it as the buzzer sounded the victory for the Eagles, 61-59.
“It was a super close game,” Greer said. “Every single player stepped up and our whole team won this game.”
Click here to see a photo album from the game.
This article has been corrected to show Tayton Davenport fouled out late in the first overtime and not the second overtime as inadvertently initially stated in a photo cutline.